Worldwide there are approximately 3,000 merchant ports and the work of the Harbour Master can vary widely from country to country and from port to port even within the same country.
Evolution not revolution. Autonomous and remote-controlled ships are being trialled but seafarers, for now, remain indispensable to safe shipping. These were key messages apparent from a special session held on 3 December of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee, which is celebrating its 100th session. This was reported on 6 December by IMO which kindly provided illustrations.
Delegates were first treated to a song commemorating IMO’s 70th anniversary since the Convention establishing IMO was adopted in 1948) as well as the MSC 100 session.
Then a specially-commissioned IMO video reminded representatives of IMO Member States, IGOs, NGOs and invited guests of the wide spectrum of work the Committee has done over six decades to enhance safety and security at sea, including navigation, cargoes, ship construction, seafarer training, search and rescue and communications and more.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim outlined the history of the Committee, since it first met in 1959, when it comprised just 14 Member States. Today the Committee consists of all IMO Member States. He reflected: ‘Thanks to the unwavering commitment to reduce the number of marine casualties and incidents, not least demonstrated by the efforts of this Committee throughout the years, and with the unique IMO spirit of cooperation that is perhaps particularly true for the work of this Committee, we have come a long way in ensuring the safe and secure operation of international shipping.’
He added: ‘As we look towards the future of the MSC, a number of key issues are on the table before us. They will require our combined continuous efforts to reach sound, balanced and timely decisions, in order to continue the long and impressive record of this Committee’s work over the past 100 sessions.’
Kevin Daffey, Director Ship Intelligence and Engineering & Technology, Commercial Marine, Rolls-Royce plc, introduced a vision of the future with videos showing the trial of a fully autonomous ferry on a voyage between Parainen and Nauvo, Finland. This ferry navigated in fully autonomous mode and under remote control operation. Plenty of ships will continue to have people on board, he said, but marine engineers are opening the design envelope to make these ships more effective and more efficient, it has been report.
Timo Koponen, Vice President, Processing Solutions, Wärtsilä Marine Business, showcased the remote control operation of an offshore vessel in August 2017. The OSV, sailing off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland, was controlled remotely from San Diego, 8,000 km away, using standard bandwidth. And more recently, in 2018, the Norwegian hybrid-powered car ferry Folgefonn underwent successful auto-docking/undocking/dock-to-dock tests. Automation, intelligent routeing, voyage optimization and just-in-time operation had the potential to provide significant fuel savings and contribute to improved environmental performance.
In Koponen’s words: ‘Are seafarers indispensable?’ This was the key question posed by Branko Berlan, Accredited Representative of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to IMO.
His message was that seafarers are still key to safe and secure ship operation. The accident/incident rate for international merchant ships is less than 5% of all ships per year, he pointed out. Seafarers are prepared for new technologies and automation, he added. ‘It is happening: it is not revolution, it will not come tomorrow or next week; it is evolution.’ Seafarers are ready to accept technologies, if they are proved to be safer than what we have now.
In the debate that followed, delegates raised questions about search and rescue operations which might involve autonomous or remotely controlled ships and how Collision Regulations would be complied with. Most believed that remote controlled or autonomous vessels would initially operate close to shore.
It is understood that the MSC is carrying out a regulatory scoping exercise to look at how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) may be introduced in IMO instruments.
Closing the special session, former MSC chair Tom Allan reminded delegates of their responsibility as the people involved in: ‘…probably the most important safety committee in the world,’ when it comes to safety of life at sea. ‘Not only this session, but the next 100.’
On 11 February the PAC published as evidence a National Audit Office memorandum titled:
The award of contracts for additional freight capacity on ferry services
The document is available here: www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/public-accounts/Correspondence/2017-19/Memorandum%20for%20PAC%20-%20The%20award%20of%20contracts%20for%20ferry%20services.pdf
PAC Chair Meg Hillier MP commented: ‘The scrapping of the Seaborne contract, and the NAO review we have published today, raise serious issues which we will explore at our session on progress with Brexit preparations on Wednesday (13 February).
It was announced on 8 February that IMO has launched a new logo for its Women in Maritime programme, as part of its mission to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Programme lead Helen Buni said: ‘The IMO Women in Maritime programme supports the participation of women in both shore-based and sea-going posts, under the slogan Training-Visibility-Recognition’, through a wide range of gender-specific activities. The new logo is just one visible part of the programme and will help women in maritime gain more visibility and exposure throughout the maritime sector and beyond.’